An upscale New York City steakhouse has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle charges by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that managers sexually harassed 22 male waiters over an almost eight-year period.
The EEOC’s case against Sparks Steak House highlights what officials say is a growing trend. Sex harassment suits filed by men represented 16.3 percent of the total in fiscal 2111, compared to 11.6 percent in 1997. The EEOC does not keep statistics on the sex of the harasser, but it says that anecdotal evidence indicates that many also are men.
According to the EEOC complaint against Sparks, which was filed in the Southern District in 2009, misconduct by managers included “regularly grabbing or pinching male employees’ buttocks and/or pushing their penises against employees’ buttocks and attempting to grab the genital areas of male employees.” According to the EEOC, many of the waiters complained, but the behavior did not stop, and some victims suffered retaliation for complaining by being given more difficult hours work assignments and/or being suspended.
“The EEOC is serious about upholding the law, which includes protection against same-sex harassment,” said Charles Coleman, Jr., lead trial attorney on the case for the EEOC in a news release. “When an employer fails to address harassment and responds by retaliating against the victims, it compounds the violation. We believe this is a fair resolution.”
In addition to the payment of the fine, the restaurant agreed to establish a complaint hotline for reporting incidents of discrimination; to distribute an amended policy prohibiting harassment and retaliation to all employees; to conduct anti-discrimination training; to post a public notice about the settlement and to report all harassment and/or harassment claims to the EEOC.
Sparks, which was represented by Allan Taffet and Chad Naso of Duval & Stachenfeld, denied the allegations and did not admit to wrongdoing or liability.
Also, the primary alleged harasser, the floor maitre’d, was not fired. According to the settlement, he was given “a final written warning that [the restaurant] will terminate his employment if it receives any future substantiated complaints of sexual harassment.”
The restaurant in a motion for partial summary judgment that was pending when the case settled also claimed that the EEOC “did not carry out any investigation with regard to the claims” of 21 out of 22 alleged victims. Earlier this year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit gutted the EEOC’s massive sexual harassment suit against an Iowa trucking company for failure to investigate claims.
In October, the EEOC sued Roy Farms in Eastern Washington, alleging that the grower violated federal law by allowing a supervisor to sexually harass male laborers. According to the EEOC, the manager touched workers in “a sexual manner and asked them to look at him while he urinated in public.”
A case is ongoing against Pitre, Inc., a car dealership in Albuquerque, N.M., where a male worker was allegedly encouraged by management to sexually harass his male colleagues. The men were allegedly touched, grabbed and bitten on their buttocks and penises.
The case is EEOC v. Michael Cetta, Inc. d/b/a Sparks Steak House, 09-cv-10601. It was assigned to Judge Barbara Jones.
@|Jenna Greene is a reporter for The National Law Journal, an affiliate of the New York Law Journal. She can be contacted at email@example.com.